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Good nutrition and a heart-healthy, low-sodium diet are very important for everyone—especially people with heart conditions. By choosing the right kinds of foods and maintaining a healthy weight, you can help minimize strain on your heart and vascular system, and feel your best.

Certain medications you might be taking, including Coumadin (Warfarin Sodium Tablets), also require special nutritional precautions. Your doctor or VAD coordinator can provide you with detailed nutritional guidelines for your particular situation.

9 Tips for Heart-Healthy Eating

Here are some general guidelines for a heart-healthy diet. Visit the Community Forums to share healthy recipes and nutrition tips with other LVAD patients.

  1. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Try for at least 5 – 6 servings a day. Do be mindful of your intake of foods high in Vitamin K, which can interfere with the effectiveness of your Coumadin/Warfarin. (More about nutrition and Coumadin below.)
  2. Increase your fiber intake. The American Heart Association recommends at least 25 grams. Choose whole grain breads and cereals, brown rice, beans, oat bran, oatmeal, fruits and vegetables.
  3. Limit fried foods. Use oil in small amounts and choose monounsaturated oils like olive and canola oil. Use lean cooking methods like baking, grilling, roasting, broiling and braising.
  4. Eat lean meats. Choose the leanest cut, trim fat and remove skin. Limit red meats to two 3oz servings a week. A 3oz portion is the size of a deck of cards. 
  5. Eat fish twice a week. Be sure to choose a lean cooking method, and avoid fish that’s fried or cooked in butter.
  6. Limit egg yolks to no more than 3 per week. Try egg whites or an egg substitute.
  7. Choose low-fat dairy products. Skim and 1% milk are considered low fat. You can use low-fat soy or lactose-free milk if you have milk intolerance.
  8. Avoid saturated and trans fats.
  • Saturated fats are found in animal foods (dairy products and fatty meats) and non-animal foods (like palm and coconut oil).  
  • Trans fats are found in snack foods, baked goods, shortening, some fried foods, and stick margarines. They raise LDL (“bad”) cholesterol and lower HDL (“good”) cholesterol.
  1. Limit your sodium intake. Choose foods containing less than 140mg per serving and aim for less than 600mg sodium per meal. Read more about sodium below.

Reading Food Labels

Labels are an excellent source of information about how much of any given food you  should eat, and whether or not it’s a healthy choice.

[Serving size/number of servings] Serving size and number of servings in the package are  the first place to look.

[Calories] Focus on serving sizes, healthy cooking methods and getting a variety of healthy  foods each day.

[Fat] Total fat should be less than 5 grams per serving (for a daily total of 50-75 grams). Try to use foods with monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats. Saturated fats should total less than 3  grams per serving (up to 15 grams per day on a typical diet). Limit trans fats.

[Fiber] 5 grams or more is a high-fiber food. The goal is at least 25 grams of fiber per day.

[Sodium] The goal is 2,000mg or less daily. Less than 140mg per sodium per serving is a low-sodium choice.

[Carbohydrates and sugars] If you have high triglycerides, choose foods with less than 30g total carbohydrate and less than 15g sugars per serving. If you’re diabetic, pay attention to total carbohydrates. (15g is considered 1 carb serving).

Sodium and Fluid Intake

Eating too much salt or sodium may cause your body to retain too much fluid. Your goal is:

  1. Less than 2,000mg sodium per day
  2. No more than 1,500ml (about 48 ounces, or 6 8oz cups) of fluid of any kind (water, juice, etc.)

Read food labels carefully and keep a daily journal of your sodium and fluid intake. In addition:

  • Choose foods with less than 140mg sodium per serving, and only eat one serving, as indicated on the label. Keep measuring cups handy to determine the right amount.
  • Don’t eat foods with more than 300mg sodium per serving
  • Try to aim for meals with less than 600mg sodium total
  • Be careful when eating out. Restaurant food can be high in sodium. Ask for sauces and dressings on the side and specify no seasoning (or just pepper).
  • Don’t add salt or seasonings with salt in them to foods when cooking or before you eat your food.

Low-sodium foods don’t have to be boring! Try any of these to add flavor:

  • Herbs, spices, and spice blends that don’t contain sodium
  • Hot pepper sauce or red pepper flakes
  • Worcestershire sauce (1 tsp/day)
  • Prepared horseradish
  • Vinegar
  • Pepper and lemon pepper (without sodium)
  • Simple salad dressings, like oil and vinegar (Read labels on bottled dressings carefully; they can be high in sodium.)

Also, keep in mind that salt is largely a programmed taste. Low-sodium foods may taste bland to you at first, but usually within a week or two your taste buds will begin to change and high-sodium foods you used to like will taste too salty.

Warfarin (Coumadin)

Most patients on an LVAD are prescribed Coumadin (Warfarin) to minimize the potential for blood clotting, which can affect the pump. If you’re taking Coumadin, you’ll need to be careful about how much Vitamin K you’re getting from foods and dietary supplements, as it can interfere with the Coumadin, and keep it from being as effective. Here are some things you can do to keep your Vitamin K levels within limits:

  • Limit high Vitamin K foods to one ½ cup serving per day. These include cooked greens like kale, spinach, turnip greens, collard greens, Swiss chard, and mustard greens
  • Limit medium Vitamin K foods to 1-cup servings no more than 3 times per day. These include raw spinach, turnip greens, green leaf lettuce, broccoli, endive, romaine lettuce, and Brussels sprouts (½ cup serving)
  • Use caution with multivitamins, herbal supplements and Vitamin K supplements. Ask your doctor before taking any of these supplements.

Anemia

After heart surgery, you may be at risk for becoming anemic—a condition in which your blood count is low, possibly because your body isn’t getting enough iron. Anemia can cause you to feel tired or run down.

Most men and women (who aren’t pregnant, breastfeeding or menstruating) need 10mg of iron per day. Some good sources of iron are:

  • Enriched and fortified grain products. Some breakfast cereals will meet many adults’ daily iron needs (including Total, 100% Bran Flakes and Grape Nuts).
  • Meat, fish, and poultry
  • Beans and soybeans
  • Spinach and kale
  • Dried prunes, apricots and raisins

Be sure also to eat foods high in Vitamin C—like oranges, grapefruits, bell peppers, and strawberries—to aid in iron absorption.

Additional Resources

American Heart Association Nutrition Center
USDA Nutrition Guidelines
American Dietetic Association